Sharks in our seas: Which species you're likely to encounter on the NZ coastline

The waters around New Zealand are teeming with the apex predators of the ocean - and there's barely a stretch of coastline where you won't encounter a species of shark.

While around 66 shark species have been identified living in our surrounding seas, there are around a dozen that fishers and swimmers will regularly come across.

Despite their fearful appearance, only a handful, like the great white, mako and hammerhead, pose a threat to human life.

Many species congregate in the warm waters of the upper North Island, ranging from bronze whalers, blue sharks, makos, giant manta rays and school sharks.

Around the South Island, generally harmless species such as spiny dogfish, school and blue sharks make the marine habitat their home.

Some species like the hammerhead, blue shark and spiny dogfish are common in all coastal waters.

But by far one of the most dangerous stretches of coastlines in the country is in the deep south, where mature great whites, with their distinct white underbelly, make their residence.

Considered the deadliest and most dangerous shark, the great white is found around both islands, with the young preferring warmer northern waters. Adults can be found in southern waters near seal colonies.

The Department of Conservation says New Zealand is a global hotspot for this species along with the waters off California, South Africa, Australia and Japan.

The apex predator, which can grow up to 7 metres long, poses the most threat to humans and is the fish responsible for the largest number of unprovoked attacks.

Since 1888 there have been five fatal attacks and 13 where people have been injured off Otago, Southland and Stewart Island beaches.

Over the past 170 years, 13 people have lost their lives in shark attacks across New Zealand.

The grim death toll rose last week when 19-year-old Kaelah Marlow was attacked by a shark, suspected to be a great white, at Bowentown end of Waihi Beach.

The Department of Conservation says encounters with large sharks in coastal waters usually happen over spring and summer, when many species move inshore to pup and feed.

With our recent sparkling summer conditions, sharks have been spotted coming closer to shore to revel in the balmy conditions.

Dozens of bronze whalers - measuring about 2.5 metres - and around half a dozen hammerheads have been seen in recent days swimming in the sparkling waters off Matarangi Beach in the Coromandel.

At the same time, hundreds of swimmers were forced out of the sea twice at the weekend when several sharks were spotted at Pauanui Beach.

Surf Life Saving New Zealand's national search and rescue manager Allan Mundy said the increase in sightings was understandable given conditions at beaches but not a cause for panic.

"We are seeing more sharks than probably what we would normally see," he told RNZ.

"But if we have a look at what is actually happening on the beach, we've got clear water at the moment, there hasn't been a really big swell, so the visibility in the water is really good and we are seeing a lot more people down on the beach, walking and swimming, because of the Covid effect."

He said the fact sharks were being spotted along the coast shouldn't cause alarm as the predators - mostly bronze whalers and thresher sharks - were simply cruising and not feeding, he said.

"They're pretty much doing what we would be doing, enjoying the warm water, basking and cruising. There's not any real food source along the surf beaches.

"These sharks feed out to sea or in the harbours, where there's lots and lots of food ... If they're hunting, they are in stealth mode."

Clinton Duffy, a marine scientist at the Department of Conservation, previously told the Herald many people had the mistaken perception sharks were uncommon in our waters. But this was not the case.

However, attacks were uncommon but people should always swim between the flags, and never alone at a non-patrolled beach.

"For the most part, sharks are completely uninterested in humans, I've seen them myself swimming past people ... taking no interest at all."















Local trusted journalism matters - now more than ever

As the Covid-19 pandemic brings the world into uncharted waters, Star Media journalists and photographers continue to report local stories that matter everyday - yours.

For more than 152 years our journalists have provided Cantabrians with local news that can be trusted. It’s more important now than ever to keep Cantabrians connected.

As our advertising has fallen during the pandemic, support from you our reader is crucial.

You can help us continue to provide local news you can trust simply by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter